At the luxury end of the wool market, competition to produce the finest quality fleece is fierce and hundreds of Australian wool growers swapped the farm for the red carpet this week for the announcement of this year's top grower.
A giant, gold-coloured catwalk made of glass transformed the Royal Hall of Industries in Sydney for a fashion show and announcement of the 50th Ermenegildo Zegna wool award winner. Guests totalled more than 800 and included actor Chris Hemsworth and model Megan Gale.
The top gong was taken out by third generation growers, Andrew and Penny Hundy from Windradeen in the Mudgee region in New South Wales. They won two major awards, including the prestigious Vellus Aureum Trophy for super fine fleece. Theirs recorded 11.3 microns. Hundy's parents, Andrew and Jill Hundy hold the current record for a fleece of 10.0 microns, recorded in 2010.
"Fineness is not the only criteria of evaluation for the wool trophy," said Ermenegildo Zegna group chairman Paolo Zegna.
"The second and the third place holders fleece are finer than the winner's. The jury consider other factors such as length of the fibre the strength, uniformity, colour and the character. All important features that compose the quality of merino wool."
Wool represents A$2.8 billion ($3.4 billion) in annual exports for Australia and growers vie for contracts.
"Our wool growers have spent the past 200 years working on the genetic improvement of merino sheep,'' said Stuart McCullough, chief executive of industry-funded Australian Wool Innovations.
"It [the merino] is a climatic sheep which can survive the full range of extreme environments and that's why our growers can produce quality at such volume."
Australia currently grazes around 70 million sheep and produces 355 million kilograms of wool per annum. Of this, 70 million kilograms is super fine wool for high end fashion.
By contrast, New Zealand produces seven million kilograms for clothing.
"If you want a beautiful carpet then New Zealand is your country," said McCullough. "When it comes to super fine wool - we dominate the market."
- Sydney Morning Herald